Matt Connolly kicks off Antenna’s new recurring series on televised awards shows.
The Golden Globe awards teeter precariously between two seemingly divergent roles within popular culture. On the one hand, NBC fosters the ceremony’s reputation as an anything-goes Hollywood celebrity bash as a means of stoking excitement and attracting viewer eyeballs. On the other hand, an ever-increasing attention to the Academy Awards race within major news outlets has afforded the Globes the faint aura of respectability–at least within the insular media-verse of awards prognosticating. Pundits feverishly parse the results of the ceremony, hoping to find within them premonitions of future Oscar gold. Both the glitter and the prestige only help the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization of international entertainment journalists that hands out the Globes. Each year’s ceremony, then, becomes an exercise in balancing boozy celebrity hijinks and sober Tinseltown tributes. The Globes must be wacky enough to tune into on Sunday night, and respectable enough to be taken seriously on Monday morning.
Such a tightrope act was on full display this year. Ricky Gervais presided over the ceremony for the third consecutive year, riding the wave of tempest-in-a-teapot controversy over his “edgy” remarks from previous hosting gigs. The British comedian brings an intriguing note of grinning hostility to the proceedings. When Gervais asked presenter Johnny Depp whether the star had actually seen his own star vehicle The Tourist, it not only proved the perfect ego-deflator for Depp. It also handily lacerated the celebrity-whoring of the HFPA itself, which gave Depp and co-star Angelina Jolie a pair of please-come-to-the-ceremony nominations last year for the critically-lambasted film.
Still, Gervais might be getting a little too complacent in his provocateur-of-the-stars persona. At one point, he read aloud from a list of topics that the HFPA had banned, concluding with a tired pun about Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver. (Foster gamely gave a thumbs-up sign during the obligatory reaction shot.) Beyond its misfiring as humor, the moment underlined how much the Globes are banking on Gervais to bring the “crazy” quotient to a ceremony whose promises of spur-of-the-moment wackiness don’t always pan out. The show’s relatively-sedate tone made even a mildly-uncomfortable moment like Rob Lowe and Julianne Moore squirming through a Teleprompter mishap stand out. “This is why we love this evening!” Lowe offered limply.
Indeed, the most surprising bit of levity came in the middle of the most sincere moment of the telecast. Morgan Freeman received this year’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, a lifetime-achievement honor complete with heartfelt tributes from Helen Mirren and Sidney Poitier. Freeman’s acceptance speech proved appropriately classy and gracious, but the preceding clip reel included downright-nutty footage of the actor circa mid-1970s, as a singing vampire on the PBS children’s show The Electric Company. Rising out of a coffin filled with bubbly water, Freeman (sans shirt and sporting Dracula fangs) scrubs his back with a brush and sings about how he “loves to take a bath in a casket.” Its utterly oddball quality offered a welcome wrinkle in Freeman’s voice-of-God persona, and made for the most genuinely surprising–and instantly YouTube-able–moment of the evening.
As for its value as an awards harbinger, the Globes gave its usual hints as to which way the winds might be blowing come Oscar time, even as HFPA’s decision to split major film awards into separate categories for “drama” and “comedy or musical” offered enough ambiguity to keep the pundits chattering with uncertainty. The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ recreation of/homage to the silent-film era, picked up three awards, including Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. This would seem to cement the film’s sprint to the head of the awards pack. Still, Alexander Payne’s much-loved The Descendents scooped the Best Motion Picture Drama prize, as well as a Best Actor in a Drama award for George Clooney. Does it have the potential to upset? Similarly, Meryl Streep’s Best Actress in a Drama win for The Iron Lady all but sews up her long-awaited third Oscar…unless Michelle Williams sneaks in for her turn in My Week with Marilyn, which won her a Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical statuette.
Trying to be both free-wheeling Hollywood bash and serious Oscar precursor, the Globes can sometimes come off a generally muddled affair. Perhaps it’s best appreciated not in its fractured grand design, but in the little moments of glamour, sentiment, and surprise that inevitably bubble to the surface. So, in that spirit of appreciation, a few brief, final thoughts on this lovingly-glorified cocktail party of an awards show. Nice speech, Meryl. Great dress, Angelina. And Morgan, babe, any more of those vampire clips?